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Heroes, friends emerge in Project Outreach

Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 14, 2005

Correction appended: the photo caption should have credited the drawing to Javone

When people think of heroes, they often think of those who have big names — Michael Jordan, Princess Diana and Mother Theresa, to name a few. But it is the other stories that often go untold, those of everyday heroes, who are born in the most unlikely of places, like M.J. Maxey Boys’ Training School, located in Whitmore Lake.

This fall, at the onset of Project Outreach — a service-learning course at the University that places students throughout the community — one group took the project further than most groups even hope to go.

“You get out of the class what you put into it,” said LSA freshman Breanne Vander Naald, one of 11 students who visit a group of boys at the Maxey every Tuesday evening. “We are just going there to be a good friend and hopefully leave a positive impact.”

Maxey is a state juvenile facility where troubled youth, ages 12 to 21, are incarcerated by courts in order to obtain rehabilitation and re-entry into society by completing a court-ordered program, said Denise Thomas, activity therapy supervisor at Maxey.

Maxey is just one of several facilities that students can visit when they enroll in the class. Students taking the course are required to do a project, but there is no other expectation beyond that.

Vander Naald said the group started out doing icebreakers and other activities with the boys, but said they quickly realized that they were not accomplishing what they had set out to do.

The group decided that it would be nice to end the semester with a culmination of all the things that had been learned and said they felt the best way to do this was through a performance.

“We really wanted to inspire and motivate them, and what better way to do that than get them started thinking about success,” Vander Naald said. “I really felt like this was about getting them to open up and express themselves. Maxey is a correctional facility. It seems really bare and very conformist, and there is little room for self-expression, and one of our goals was to provide them with the opportunity to do this.”

LSA senior and group facilitator Kirk Whitelaw also spoke to why the group came up with success as the theme for their project.

“We came up with success because we thought it was something positive for the boys to reflect on and would leave enough room for them to interpret in their own way through their work.”  

So, with the common theme of success, the boys and the Project Outreach group set out on a journey that none of them would soon forget.

The boys described their feelings and each had a unique take on his experience.

“I’m never going to forget this one,” said Justin, one of the boys who the group met with each week. “It gives us a chance to talk to people who are out there in the real world and gives me something to aspire to.”

For the performance, Justin wrote a story and will be performing a skit with some of the other boys.

Success, he said, “isn’t something you can obtain, it’s something you feel.”

James, who is doing a break-dance routine for the performance, said he has become more open and trusting as a result of meeting with the Project Outreach students. He also said the group helps him and the other boys to keep in touch with society.

To him, success means meeting your goals and knowing what failure is, but being able to get back up when you do fail.

Each of the boys discussed his goals for the rest of their lives, of which he had many.

Bob wants to finish high school and hopes to be a dentist.

Of his experience at Maxey and with Project Outreach, he said that he has “rejuvenated” himself.

Josh, who has written poetry for the performance, said of the group that it “made me want to go to college.”

Robert said he enjoyed being around other people, as the Project Outreach group has given him the opportunity to do.

He is proud of his break-dance routine and said it has allowed him an outlet to put all of his feelings into. He said he was also proud that he came up with something that he is able to show other people.

Robert described success as “doing your best no matter what gets in your way.”

Javone, who drew a picture about what success means to him, hopes to go to art and law school once he is released from Maxey.

Derek, who is doing a skit on the Olympics, said, “They’ve taught me a lot about myself that I never knew I could do,” describing his relationship with the University students.